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Labour’s foreign policy begins at home

David Lammy knows his brief won’t dominate the next election, so he is keen to connect to voters’ concerns such as trade and growth.

By Freddie Hayward

We learnt two key things about Labour’s approach to foreign policy during David Lammy’s speech at the Fabian Society today. 

First, Labour will frame its £28bn-a-year Green Prosperity Plan as a response to the US Inflation Reduction Act, which funnelled billions of dollars of tax credits into green industries. That’s smart. Polling for the New Statesman has found that the Green Prosperity Plan, while popular, attracted much more opposition (31 per cent) than the other Labour policies surveyed. The shadow foreign secretary knows his brief won’t dominate the next election but, as he set out at Chatham House in January, he believes that our problems at home – from inflation to energy security – are shaped by what the government does abroad. Connecting the green investment policy, which is Labour’s most expensive, in voters’ minds to trade and economic growth could help to boost its popularity. 

Second, Lammy seemed to equivocate on Labour’s position as to whether China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs. He said that a Labour government would declare that China’s treatment of the Uyghurs amounts to genocide, but when pressed on the implications of this by Politico’s Eleni Courea, he replied: “What I’ve said is we will act multilaterally with our partners. Parliament took a decision about genocide. The international community is very concerned about genocide. But I’m absolutely clear that my description of China is that it is a ‘strategic competitor’. The government has arrived at that position, and I accept that to be the case.”

That suggests Lammy may have jumped the gun with his first answer, and that he was referring to Labour MPs voting to accuse China of genocide in 2021, not the position of a future Labour government – a vital distinction. Accusing one of our largest trading partners of genocide could carry with it obligations for the government to act. Lammy is keen to stress Labour will take a multilateral approach on China. That the US government has made its own declaration of genocide increases the likelihood that a Labour government would do the same, but Labour doesn’t seem ready to take a decision yet.

[See also: Uyghur detention camps: a special report on China and a culture under attack]

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